IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Working Group III: Mitigation of Climate Change


The concept of sustainable development was adopted by the World Commission on Environment and Development, and there is agreement that sustainable development involves a comprehensive and integrated approach to economic, social, and environmental processes. Discourses on sustainable development, however, have focused primarily on the environmental and economic dimensions. The importance of social, political, and cultural factors is only now getting more recognition. Integration is essential in order to articulate development trajectories that are sustainable, including addressing the climate change problem.

There is growing emphasis in the literature on the two-way relationship between climate change mitigation and sustainable development. The relationship may not always be mutually beneficial. In most instances, mitigation can have ancillary benefits or co-benefits that contribute to other sustainable development goals (climate first). Development that is sustainable in many other respects can create conditions in which mitigation can be effectively pursued (development first) (high agreement, much evidence).

Although still in early stages, there is growing use of indicators to manage and measure the sustainability of development at the macro and sectoral levels. This is driven in part by the increasing emphasis on accountability in the context of governance and strategy initiatives. At the sectoral level, progress towards sustainable development is beginning to be measured and reported by industry and governments using, for instance, green certification, monitoring tools, and emissions registries. Review of the indicators illustrates, however, that few macro-indicators include measures of progress with respect to climate change (high agreement, much evidence).

Climate change is influenced not only by the climate-specific policies but also by the mix of development choices and the resulting development trajectories - a point reinforced by global scenario analyses published since the Third Assessment Report (TAR). Making development more sustainable by changing development paths can thus make a significant contribution to climate goals. But changing development pathways is not about choosing a mapped-out path, but rather about navigating through an uncharted and evolving landscape (high agreement, much evidence).

Making decisions about sustainable development and climate change mitigation is no longer the sole purview of governments. There is increasing recognition in the literature of a shift to a more inclusive concept of governance, which includes the contributions of various levels of government, private sector, non-governmental actors, and civil society. The more climate change issues are mainstreamed as part of the planning perspective at the appropriate level of implementation, and the more all relevant parties are involved in the decision-making process in a meaningful way, the more likely they are to achieve the desired goals (high agreement, medium evidence).

Regarding governments, a substantial body of political theory identifies and explains the existence of national policy styles or political cultures. The underlying assumption of this work is that individual countries tend to process problems in a specific manner, regardless of the distinctiveness or specific features of any problem; a national ‘way of doing things’. Furthermore, the choice of policy instruments is affected by the institutional capacity of governments to implement the instrument. This implies that the preferred mix of policy decisions and their effectiveness in terms of sustainable development and climate change mitigation strongly depend on national characteristics (high agreement, much evidence).

The private sector is a central player in ecological and sustainability stewardship. Over the past 25 years, there has been a progressive increase in the number of companies taking steps to address sustainability issues at either the company or industry level. Although there has been progress, the private sector has the capacity to play a much greater role in making development more sustainable in the future, because such a shift is likely to benefit its performance (medium agreement, medium evidence).

Citizen groups have been major demanders of sustainable development and are critical actors in implementing sustainable development policy. Apart from implementing sustainable development projects themselves, they can push policy reform through awareness-raising, advocacy, and agitation. They can also pull policy action by filling the gaps and providing policy services, including in the areas of policy innovation, monitoring, and research. Interactions can take the form of partnerships or stakeholder dialogues that can provide citizens’ groups with a lever for increasing pressure on both governments and industry (high agreement, medium evidence).

Deliberative public-private partnerships work most effectively when investors, local governments and citizen groups are willing to work together to implement new technologies, and produce arenas to discuss these technologies that are locally inclusive (high agreement, medium evidence).

Region- and country-specific case studies demonstrate that different paths and policies can achieve noticeable emissions reductions, depending on the capacity to realise sustainability and climate change objectives. These capacities are determined by the same set of conditions that are closely linked to the state of development. The mitigative capacity to realise low emissions can be low due to differentiated national endowments and barriers, even when significant abatement opportunities exist. The challenge of implementing sustainable development exists in both developing and industrialized countries. The nature of the challenge, however, tends to be different in the industrialized countries. (high agreement, much evidence).

Some general conclusions emerging from the case studies of how changes in development pathways at the sectoral level have or could lower emissions are reviewed in this chapter (high agreement, medium evidence):

  • Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are influenced by but not rigidly linked to economic growth: policy choices make a difference.
  • Sectors where effective production is far below the maximum feasible with the same amount of inputs - sectors far from their production frontier - have opportunities to adopt ‘win-win-win’ policies. These policies free up resources and bolster growth, meet other sustainable development goals, and also reduce GHG emissions relative to baseline.
  • Sectors where production is close to optimal given available inputs – sectors that are closer to the production frontier - also have opportunities to reduce emissions by meeting other sustainable development goals. However, the closer to the production frontier, the more trade-offs are likely to appear.
  • To truly have an effect, what matters is that not only a ‘good’ choice is made at a certain point, but also that the initial policy is sustained for a long period - sometimes several decades.
  • It is often not one policy decision, but an array of decisions that are necessary to influence emissions. This raises the issue of coordination between policies in several sectors, and at various scales.

Mainstreaming requires that non-climate policies, programmes, and/or individual actions take climate change mitigation into consideration, in both developing and developed countries. However, merely piggybacking climate change onto an existing political agenda is unlikely to succeed. The ease or difficulty with which mainstreaming is accomplished will depend on both mitigation technologies or practices, and the underlying development path. Weighing other development benefits against climate benefits will be a key basis for choosing development sectors for mainstreaming. Decisions about fiscal policy, multilateral development bank lending, insurance practices, electricity markets, petroleum imports security, forest conservation, for example, which may seem unrelated to climate policy, can have profound impacts on emissions, the extent of mitigation required, and the resulting costs and benefits. However, in some cases, such as a shift from biomass cooking to LPG in rural areas of developing countries, it may be rational to disregard climate change considerations because of the small increase in emissions compared with its development benefits (high agreement, medium evidence).

There is a growing understanding of the possibilities to choose mitigation options and their implementation such that there is no conflict with other dimensions of sustainable development; or, where trade-offs are inevitable, to allow a rational choice to be made. The sustainable development benefits of mitigation options vary within a sector and over regions (high agreement, much evidence):

  • Generally, mitigation options that improve productivity of resource use, whether energy, water, or land, yield positive benefits across all three dimensions of sustainable development. Other categories of mitigation options have a more uncertain impact and depend on the wider socioeconomic context within which the option is implemented.
  • Climate-related policies, such as energy efficiency, are often economically beneficial, improve energy security, and reduce local pollutant emissions. Many energy supply mitigation options can also be designed to achieve other sustainable development benefits, such as avoided displacement of local populations, job creation, and rationalized human settlements design.
  • Reducing deforestation can have significant biodiversity, soil, and water conservation benefits, but may result in loss of economic welfare for some stakeholders. Appropriately designed forestation and bioenergy plantations can lead to reclamation of degraded land, manage water runoff, retain soil carbon and benefit rural economies, but could compete with land for agriculture and may be negative for biodiversity.
  • There are good possibilities for reinforcing sustainable development though mitigation actions in most sectors, but particularly in waste management, transportation, and building sectors, notably through decreased energy use and reduced pollution.